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Military sex assault victims need support system

By BY SEN. JOHN CORNYN
Aug. 6, 2013 at 3:06 a.m.


A justice system cannot truly be just if it is not vested with the confidence of the people it is meant to serve.

This is as true for the military as it is for civilians.

In order for the system to work, people need to be able to trust that the system will dispassionately pursue the facts and protect the due process rights of all parties involved.

Victims of wrongdoing must be secure in the knowledge that they can rely on the system to deliver justice without needlessly exacerbating the wounds left by the crime committed against them.

When it comes to crimes of sexual assault, the military justice system is failing.

It has lost the trust of many of the people it is meant to serve and, as a consequence, an environment has been created in which these heinous acts can occur.

The status quo is unacceptable, and it is imperative that Congress and the military take corrective action to fix this problem.

One of the difficulties of bringing sexual predators to justice is the general lack of reporting by victims.

By one estimate, 89 percent of victims of sexual assault in the military do not report the crime committed against them. Consequentially, sexual predators in the military know that they are acting with a degree of unchecked impunity.

Increasing the reporting rate is a key component of tackling this scourge of sexual assaults within the ranks. Thus, we must ask: What is driving the low reporting rate, and how do we reverse this trend?

The answer to the former is clear. In the military justice system, victims who come forward with formal accusations are sometimes submitted to humiliating rounds of intense interviews without an attorney present to help them understand what they are being asked about.

In front of sometimes hostile interrogators, victims are forced to relive the attack they endured.

At the same time, according to one incident recounted in the San Antonio Express-News' "Twice Betrayed" series, they may be subjected to disconcerting questions about their marriages, their sexual histories and other personal details that bear little or no relevance to the case.

This, combined with the fear of retaliation and jeopardizing one's career, creates a powerful disincentive for acts of sexual assault to be reported.

This dynamic must be eliminated, and I believe the best way to do so is to empower victims. To that end, I have co-sponsored legislation in the Senate that would require the military to provide a special victims' counsel for victims of sexual assault.

These lawyers would give crucial assistance and legal advice to victims, standing at their sides and guiding them through the emotionally charged process.

Victims need to be informed of their rights. They need to have an ally who will help them stand up to the prying and intimidating questions of defense attorneys and sometimes overzealous criminal investigators.

They need to know that the injustice they endured will not go unpunished and that the guilty will be held accountable.

Finally, they need to know that the American people stand with them and that, together, we will not tolerate the status quo.

The legislation to create special victims' counsels has broad support from across the ideological spectrum, and I am pleased that a version of it has already been added to both the Senate and House versions of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act.

We must push forward. We must put an end to these abuses that are ruining the lives of strong, patriotic Americans who choose to serve their country.

Failing to do so would represent a betrayal of the victims and a moral stain on our collective conscience.

Sen. John Cornyn serves on the Finance and Judiciary committees. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee's Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee. He served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court justice and Bexar County district judge.

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